I am in a small village town. It is not small as in tiny with few houses, It is small as in a small town with next to no modern amenities but bigger than a typical village. I call it Villtown. You can see it as a reverse of fortune in a way, from a number one City in the world with everything you can get of the worldly-wise and deen-wise to a world’s backyard village no one ever heard of except for the fact that it has in it a university, the only thing that makes it bearable for me.
I got here back in December, 2013 and reported for work at the University in January 2014 ” in service of the nation”. Yes, service of the nation. A compulsory part of life as a graduate in my home country. I had evaded it for more than a decade unknowingly but I now had to do it for no other way out of it. I had no idea that those educated abroad will still need to do the service before they can be eligible to enter into the job market. In fact, the first thing you get asked before your qualification for a job is the National service. No National service, no job unless you want to go the corrupt way or are self employed.
So, I jumped off the plane and hopped on the bus for the national service. No time to relax and take stock of life so far, one must work to make a living, otherwise life could be a bit more miserable with no breadwinner. It was a long winding process but much improved than the previous years, everything online now but that does not exclude the long queuing and bureaucratic process with underhand discrimination and victimisation of this little Muslim woman.
After jumping through many hoops along the way, I ended up in this tiny village. I remember telling some of my friends back in the UK that I joined the national service, they were like ” you joined the military?” No, it’s not the military, national service does not necessarily means the Military service. Though run by the military, graduates are sent to serve in different parts of the country from which they originate or studied. They are placed to serve in places related to their course of study but mainly teaching. Some get placed in companies or organisations depending on many factors, which I have no idea about, perhaps influence. I did tried to influence my placement as an option for overseas graduates which I did not realise until very late in the process.
Eventually, I ended up in this village town as one of the lucky few, as I was made to understand. Which means, it could be worse. There were dramas in-between as its always the case in my life, especially being this hijab-wearing little Muslim woman.
My place of primary assignment in this village is the University in the village, a state University, established in 1999, quite young. Not surprisingly, I was the only Muslim woman posted to this place in my group. They have 3 groups each year. The first group in the year had a Muslim brother, the second group had a Muslim brother and I am the only Muslim in the third group and the group after me had no Muslim at all. On the minimum, each group will be about 20 graduates, which makes it like ratio 20:1. It means for every 20 graduates posted to serve in this village University, you have one Muslim if you are lucky. My point?! the extent to which Muslims are being victimised, discriminated against and excluded in this country of mine and my experience in this particular place as an outsider is an example in point. All of which will form part of my writing henceforth, insha Allah.
Didn’t I say I volunteered to teach Quran to the local children in my last post and the experience was very revealing. It is part of the national service to give to the local community whatever you are able to, by volunteering your skills and knowledge apart from what you do in your primary assignment. Having been teaching Quran for years and missing that bit of my life, I decided to teach local children as my own private and personal little project but first I’ve got to find them.
I asked one of the two Muslim brothers I met here, and what he told me was very shocking to say the least. First, he said he does not really think it will work and I asked why. Then he narrated that they’ve tried doing Friday dawah and Jumah prayers in a local school headed by a Muslim Principal, just for the Muslim children only, being a state school. He said when they approached the Principal with their idea, he welcomed it being a Muslim himself and sees nothing wrong in it as it was meant only for Muslim children. But the parents, teachers and local people sees it differently.
They were hounded out of the school just after two sessions and the Muslim Head of the school was helpless to do anything about it. In fact, if he had stepped-in in favour of the Muslim brothers, he most likely would have lost his job. Being a Head of school in a place staunchly anti-Muslim is a privilege and grace he can’t afford to lose just for the sake of some graduates Muslim personal project. Muslims here don’t amount to much, if they don’t change their religion except by the grace and mercy of Allah. This informs the attitude of majority of the Muslims here and what they pass on to their children.
Despite the brother’s narrations about this case, I thought I could still make a difference, I could contribute the little I know and I could do something in my own little way to impact on the Muslim children that it is ok to be a practising Muslim and amount to much in life. Being a Muslim is not a barrier in life, in fact it opens many doors for the worldly good and most importantly that of the next. I must have been wrong, because no sooner did I embark on my little project did the heat started getting fired in my direction. I myself became a victim, in fact I was already a victim from the point of my entry into the service but thought nothing of it, just one of those things. I thought after all I am now on the soil on which I was born, where I belong. But they are telling me I don’t belong here, I look, sound, think and act different from their expectations, above all an hijab-wearing little Muslim woman.
Before I go into the genesis and details of this on-going experience, I don’t want to forget about my children. How I found then, where I found them, what I did with them, how it ended and my hope for these children and their likes.